The War that Saved My Life

Historical Fiction

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The historical fiction novel The War that Saved My Life, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, takes place during WWII in London. Nine year old Ada Smith, the protagonist, is born with a clubfoot, a birth defect that caused her mother to lock her away and abhor her existence. Unable to walk normally, Ada's only connection to the outside world is her brother, Jamie. When the children are forced to leave London because of the looming threat of a bombing, Ada is swept with along with them. Jamie and she arrive at the countryside and are taken into the custody of Miss Susan Smith, a woman who was forced to take them in. However, in the midst of wartime, they find comfort in each other, with Ada shaking off the influence that her mother had on her, and Susan getting over her friend’s death. Tragedy strikes and Ada and Jamie are ripped apart from Susan by their mother, who reclaims them merely because of the cost to sustain their life at Susan’s house. Ada, no longer content to stay by her mother’s side begs Mam to let them go. The novel ends with them getting reunited with Susan.


The book starts in London, England's capital, during World War II. Ada and Jamie are evacuated to the country side with the other children of London after the capital is threatened to be bombed.
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Ada is a nine year old girl who is born with clubfoot, a birth defect in which the foot is twisted out of shape. She is abused my her mother and locked away until she finally gets let free by the war evacuation. She suffers a myriad of illnesses, both physical and mental. She is very placid and apathetic at the beginning of the book, but after removing her mother's influence on her, becomes more strong willed. She is fiercely protective of her brother, Jamie.

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Miss Smith

Susan Smith is the woman who took Ada and Jamie in. She lived alone and was reluctant to house them, but after seeing how bedraggled they were, conceded to let them live in her house. She went to Oxford to the dismay of her father, who was a pastor. She is crucial character because she shows Ada and Jamie what a true family should feel like.
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Women's Volunteer Services (WVS)

The WVS was a organisation that played a key part in helping civilians and soldiers during World War II. When the soldiers from the Battle of Dunkirk returned to England, the WVS assisted them in getting the help they needed, which is seen in the novel. Susan also joins them after encouragement from Ada.
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Alice in Wonderland

During Christmas, Ada is gifted Alice in Wonderland. The author doesn't elaborate on this choice, but this made me think of the parallels between the two books. Alice and Ada are both involuntarily thrust into a world that is the polar opposite of what they perceive the world to be like. Alice is gallivanting around, learning about new animals and seeing magic sights, while Ada is discovering the world outside her room. Both characters are very inquisitive and seek adventure.

My Thoughts

Overall, I found the book to be a decent read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books set in the WWII time frame. The book was moderately paced, although there wasn't that much action. The plot was mostly character-based and just meandered around until it petered out. The middle of the book just seemed like little snapshots of the main characters' daily lives, and there wasn't a clear cut antagonist throughout the book. On the positive side, the portrayal of life during WWII was well integrated within the plot and didn't seem like a crutch. The characters seemed genuine and enjoyable to read about. In the end, it didn't feel like I was trudging through it even though there wasn't a goal for the characters to reach, most likely because the characters were very animated and likable.